It is easy to get lost in the details of the back-and-forth over the Trump administration’s decision on Wednesday to reverse an Obama-era guidance that allowed transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms of their choice, among other protections, but one aspect is clear: Because the order came from Donald Trump, whose inflammatory rhetoric and seemingly impulsive decision-making has sent shockwaves through the country, trans kids and their families are especially fearful.
When the Obama admistration guidelines came out last May, “it was remarkably comforting to everybody,” Susan Maasch, executive director of Trans Youth Equality Foundation, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that works with thousands of kids every year, told The Outline.
“It felt almost like an awakening, like life was going to be easier for the kids. To have it stripped away is an aggressive affront to this sense of safety, and it encourages bullies to feel like they have license to be a bully. ... It reminds us that words really do count. Words can frighten and scare.”
“Words really do count. Words can frighten and scare.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the White House framed its reversal as an issue of states’ rights. “As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be regarded at the state level,” the statement said. “The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education paves the way for an open and inclusive process at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers, and administrators.”
Rhetoric tends to become overheated quickly on both sides of divisive issues, and what actually happens next remains unclear. Several Democratic governors, including Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Jay Inslee of Washington, and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, have issued statements opposing the move. Oral arguments for a potentially landmark Supreme Court case are scheduled to begin next month, when Virginia teen Gavin Grimm continues his fight to use the boys’ bathroom in his high school.
In the interim, Maasch expects that organizations like hers will need to work overtime to support youth who feel threatened by Trump’s action. It will also mobilize to protest against it. New York City, which adopted guidelines in 2014 allowing students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, will be unaffected — at least in the legal sense.
But it is the more visceral level that advocates worry about. Sure, Trump’s action is consistent with what one might expect from any Republican administration, but this is a president whose uniquely bellicose tone has already made marginalized groups feel a deeper and more urgent sense of fear. Because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, trans kids feel extra anxious, as evidenced by the 10-year-old trans girl in Maine who raised her hand at a recent support group and told Maasch that the new president scared her.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that there are approximately 150,000 transgender youth in the United States. Many are at-risk: A report last year by Vocativ held that a staggering “41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.”
In the hours after Trump revoked Obama’s guidelines, Trans Youth Equality found itself flooded with calls from concerned trans youth and their families expressing fear of increased bullying and seeking clarity on what the move would mean for them. “We’re having a tough time right now,” Maasch said. “Even the parents who are most supportive and educated are scared.”
As Maasch sees it, Wednesday’s news fits the pattern of Trump’s insensitivity to other groups; now, she and others in her circle fear that the tone set by the president’s decision will lead to threats and violence like those experienced by other vulnerable groups since the inauguration.
“We all know that when Trump says he wants peace and safety for all Americans, he doesn’t mean LGBT people,” Maasch said. “He doesn’t mean trans children. He doesn’t even mean Jews and Muslims. … (The reversal of) these guidelines is for what reason other than bigotry?”
If anti-trans bullying does increase — as threats on Jewish Community Centers have since the inauguration — Maasch will blame the Trump administration.
“This is a high-risk group of kids, and now we feel that there is more anxiety and depression,” she said. “They will have the blood of the children on their hands.”